Letter from GEORGE PERKINS MARSH to CHARLES ELIOT NORTON, dated January 16, 1865.
I am much obliged to you for yours of Dec 29' which I have just received. I hoped to have had an article ready for the N. A. Review some time since, but causes which I could not control have prevented me from finishing it, though it was begun early in September. The subject is substantially: The want of a national (spoken) language considered as an obstacle to the political unification of the Italian provinces. I have been much embarrassed thus far by the strict prohibition to write on the political affairs of foreign countries, but by omitting half of what I have written, and supplying some thing else, I hope ere long to get an article in a condition for the press.
I am much encouraged by your cheerful views of the political prospect of our country. I have had so many taunting questions put to me which I could not answer, and have been so much perplexed by the seeming backslidings and tergiversation of the government, and its apparent desire to relieve the symptoms, without removing the cause, of our political ailments, that I have often almost despaired of the republic. But I hope a firmer policy will be found after all, to have lain behind the show of vacillation, and that the extinction of slavery will be avowed as the first and the last of the means to be employed to crush the rebellion, and take away the motive for a future renewal of a similar crime.
As to England, I do not think the American people will ever give up the question of
indemnity for the wrongs which, during this war, we have suffered from British hate
and British love of plunder. I hope
we may not need to resort to force, but if we do not, in some way, exact satisfaction, we shall lose all the respect we now enjoy from any European government, that is, the respect which is founded on a salutary . Every day convinces me more and more, that our institutions are regarded with the intensest detestation by every European hierarchy and aristocracy, and that our only mode of securing right from any State on this side of the Atlantic is to show that we can and will exact redress of every national . My own opinion is that as soon as the rebellion is quelled, British sycophancy will be as ostentatiously manifested as British malignity now is, and that ample indemnity for the past and ample security for the future will be promptly given.
I should look upon any great calamity to the British people as an irreparable evil
to the cause of humanity and civil liberty, but I am by no means clear that a
radical revolution in England would damage anybody but the ecclesiastical
and lay aristocracy, whose interests are not, I think, to be weighed against those of the larger masses. The influence of England on the Continent, inspiriting and encouraging as is the of the British people, is regarded by every French, German, and Italian liberalist known to me, as hostile to the progress of freedom everywhere out of British territory, and if the day of trial comes, as come it must, England will be found to have no friends, unless she repairs our good will by an honest reparation of the enormous mischiefs which the hostility and bad faith of the British government has encouraged its subjects to do to us.
I do not know much of England from personal observation, but most of my English friends admit a fearful and rapidly increasing demoralisation of the nation, especially among the governing classes, which seems to need another Cromwell and another Milton for its reformation.
I have been so long on term of friendship with Mr Ticknor,
and have always cherished so high a regard for him, that it is painful to me to
differ so widely from him
as I fear I do on the political questions which most interest us as Americans. From Mr Winthrop, to whom I formerly looked with much hope of good and great things, I have for several years ceased to expect any further aid to the cause of our common country. As a political man by practice and training, and with such antecedents, he could not have taken the ground he did in the election of 1856 without having undergone a radical change of both feeling and political principle, which disqualified him for further usefulness in public affairs. No man in New England possessed so great an influence as he then enjoyed, no man had personally a greater stake in the triumph of the good cause, no man has thrown away so brilliant opportunities of rendering splendid services and reaping a splendid reward, as Mr Winthrop. He has lost the respect of his old political friends, irrecoverably, and has not even won the poor compensation of the confidence of his new associates--I had almost said accomplices, for one cannot well speak of Wood and Seymour and Vallandigham and the like without using terms which imply
an imputation of crime.
I have been much delighted with the numbers of the N.A. Review issued under the new editorship, and I know no periodical in our language which is entitled to rank above it. I am quite discouraged as to further attempts at bookmaking, and I know no channel through which I shall more willingly utter the few things which probably remain for me to say than through its columns.
You will find nothing of interest in my despatches. The relations between France and
Italy are of a character that will not admit of criticism by an
American diplomate, and the same thing is true of the policy of the two last, and I
am sorry to be compelled to add, of the present ministry. I have, therefore, made
confidential everything I have written worth reading. But in spite of wretched
misgovernment, and of growing demoralisation in some
quarters and some directions, there is an increasing material well being in Italy, which is strikingly manifested in the decreased mendicancy--e.g. in three visits to the cathedral square at Pisa, of all places in the world, not long since, I saw but one beggar-- and besides, education is rapidly spreading among the lower, and, what is more surprising, even among the higher classes
Foolish and malignant old Pio's late encyclical produced at first no effect in Italy. "We knew all that before," people said; but since they perceive that it's occasioning a in France, the seems to be rousing the liberal Italians to a perception of the advantages they may derive from this granting of Mr Browning's prayer: More madness Lord!
The Florentines were quite wild with joy when they heard of the new French trap
which their 'great and good friend'
had baited for his loving allies, but they are now pretty well sobered down, and I think the wisest of them wish they had been spared the honor which is vouchsafed to them.
I expect to go to the U.S. in April. I have no reason to suppose that Mr L. means to make general changes in the diplomatic service, but should not be in the least surprised to find that such was his purpose. At any rate, I do not think it safe to take a house at Florence--I have still on my hands a year's lease of one at Turin--until I return, if return I do, after a visit to America.
The government is to be transferred early in May, and when it leaves Piedmont, the dynasty of Savoy slips the cable of its sheet anchor; for Piedmont does not, will not, forgive the injury, still less the insult, she has suffered from hands which ought, at least, moliter manus imposuit, as the lawyers say.
Begging you to accept for yourself & Mrs North the best new years wishes of Mrs Marsh, & my own.
I am, dear sir, truly yoursGeorge P. MarshC E Norton Esq.
References in this letter:
Marsh's "The Origin of the Italian Language," a 42-page review of Cesare Cantu's Sull' origine della lingua italiana, 1865, and other works, appeared in the North American Review for July 1867.
George Ticknor (1791-1871), historian and scholar, published his biography of William Hickling Prescott (1796-1859), author of History of the Conquest of Mexico and History of the Conquest of Peru, in 1864.
Robert C. Winthrop (1809-1894) was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives 1840-50 and a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts 1850-51. He reluctantly opposed the Fugitive Slave Bill, aind in 1864, opposed the reelection of Lincoln.
Fernando Wood (1812-1881), a leading member of the Peace Democrats, was mayor of New York City 1861-62 and member of the House of Representatives 1862-65.
Horatio Seymour (1810-1886) was Democratic governor of New York from 1863 to 1865.
Clement L. Vallandigham (1810-1871), a leading member of the Peace Democrats, made so many speeches against the war that he was eventually tried by a military court and sentenced to two years in prison. President Lincoln cancelled the sentence and had Vallandigham banished to the Confederate states.
Pope Pius IX (Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti), who held the office from 1846 to 1878, was a dedicated foe of all aspects of modernism. His encyclical Quanta cura, issued December 8, 1864, had attached to it a Syllabus listing eighty of the "principal errors of our times."
Italian: "disorder, confusion"
A September 1864 agreement signed by Italy and France (whose monarch was Napoleon III, the "great and good friend") included a provision that the capital of Italy be moved from Turin to Florence.
Victor Emmanuel II, king of Italy, had previously been king of Savoy. Piedmont is the region in which Turin is located.
An adaptation of a legal phrase that may be translated in this context as "to have laid gentle arms on her."